The only time I ever had anything close to a “birds and the bees” discussion with my dad was just before I got married. Self-control, he advised, was the best approach to sex and family planning. I remember trying to suppress a smile since I am the eighth child in our family and was born when my mother was at the sprite young age of 43. For an encore, my parents had my youngest sister five years later. Inasmuch as we only have two children, I keep bugging my wife that we’re not exercising enough self-control!
Joking aside, however, I have no doubt that my father meant what he said. It’s just that he lived in a different time when it was normal for couples to have kids by the dozen. During his era, family planning was simply not as big an issue. But that is no longer the case today. And where discussions regarding natural vs. artificial family planning methods in the past were muted, it is now practically all-out war between the so-called pro-life and pro-choice groups. As a husband and father, I believe that this is a very important matter that we all need to take very seriously. In listening and reading about the debates, however, I am reminded of my frustrations in the past in trying to get business contracts signed between two big corporations. Sometimes, the important terms of a deal — such as the price, quantity, capital contributions, etc. — got set aside when the lawyers of both parties insisted on retaining the “boilerplate” or standard clauses of their contracts. More often than not, these were “what-if” clauses that were very one-sided or that protected against extreme events that almost never happened. Similarly, I think that the debate about family planning sometimes gets sidetracked by collateral issues. I believe that the central goal of family planning ought to be helping families achieve dignified and productive lives through appropriate spacing of children and, subject to the parents’ own private discernment, having only enough children that they can raise well. I do not claim to know the right answers to all the questions. But in my opinion, the following items distract, rather than help us have a more level-headed discussion about this issue.
First of all, it would be helpful to temporarily take out the abortion factor from the discussion. Other nations and cultures may look at it differently, but I believe that the vast majority of Filipinos are, and will always be, universally against abortion. I am, therefore, pretty confident that any law or product that supports abortion will never be tolerated in this country. Even if some people manage to surreptitiously insert it in, I think that it can and will be quickly repealed or prohibited. Pro-life groups should stop using abortion as a “fear factor” in this debate. At the same time, extremists within the pro-choice sector should stop finding clandestine ways to promote abortion.
Second, pro-choice groups should stop justifying the use of artificial contraception primarily on macroeconomic grounds. First of all, I think that it demeans humanity by reducing all of us to mere factors of consumption and production. I also believe that our approaches and attitudes will be very different if we considered this issue at the family level, as a problem of Mang Jose and Aling Nena, for instance, rather than in the abstract levels of national fertility rates and GNP. I also agree with the pro-life argument that before blaming poverty on parents who have “too many” kids, we should first tackle the other factors such as corruption, better government, and social justice.
Third, pro-life supporters should stop using this issue as their political and moral litmus test above all other issues. In the hierarchy of sin, if there is indeed any, is supporting the use of condoms really more evil than corruption and cheating? Even my father complained when he was still alive how some quarters would fight like tigers against pornography and divorce yet suddenly turn into meek lambs on questions of social justice. In the end, I think that this seeming inconsistency among the pro-life sector hurts its cause more than any other.
Lastly, family planning is not, nor should it be, reduced to just a health or a lifestyle issue as some in the pro-choice sector seem to be pushing. Regardless of one’s religious affiliation, I don’t think anyone can deny that sex and procreation have a moral dimension. Even from a moral standpoint, however, I also believe that couples who are genuinely in a loving relationship should be given some slack. Personally, and not in small part due to my father’s influence, I guess that I am ultimately more pro-life than pro-choice. But I think that there is some common ground out there, some middle of the middle ground where both sides can sincerely meet. I hope that we one day find it. –Tony Montemayor (The Philippine Star)
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